05 October 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

...who fluctuates the most of all? The English teacher.

From now on, I should probably not answer people when they ask, "How are you doing?" There will be a new answer every day, possibly every hour. Last week, I felt as though I were actually getting into some sort of rhythm. But then the weekend came, a storm cloud, and accusatory thoughts pelted me like angry rain: you're not organized enough; you don't have the right skills; the kids are going to suffer because you're not doing it right. Oh, look, my old friend perfectionism invited itself to dinner!

On Monday night, I left the building for an after-school siesta. By the time I woke up, the sky was getting dark. I trudged up to my classroom, a rag doll only loosely sewn together, stuffing spilling out, seams frayed and ripping. I worked in the classroom until 11:30, when tears finally pressed their way out. I cried at my desk for a few minutes, walked back home to cry in my shower and then in my bed. It took ages to fall asleep, my mind dragging itself over each piece: curriculum, building relationships, making rubrics, copying worksheets. It's clumsy work, trying to fit a zillion puzzle pieces together with oversized fingers and undersized confidence.

And yet.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and wasn't tired. One of my seventh graders wrote in his journal that he's never enjoyed reading so much in his life. A ninth grade girl told someone that English was one of her favorite classes. We had a great discussion about Harrison Bergeron, and today, the kids actually applauded the three videos I showed in class (I like to think it means they were touched--though they applauded even louder for my little "there's no homework tonight" speech. That's how you can really strike an emotional chord with a high schooler.). My ninth graders--my rowdy, squealing, intimidating ninth graders--have surprised me lately with their depth of insight, and now that we've started discussing character and motivation and what really matters about a person, I'm excited to see what they're going to toss my way. Oh, and we had a middle school spa night for the girls, which started out quiet and ended with a bunch of nail-polished, face-masked, pedicured, hand-scrubbed happiness. I'd say that's progress.

It's just hard, you know? If I could catch the snatches of success and keep them in a jar, there'd be a handful or two. The kids are so, so wonderful. It's me who can't quite get it together. Some days, I feel like I'm dropping pieces of myself left and right, and then chunks of my brain go flying out my mouth. (Middle schoolers really love that, by the way, so it's not a total loss.) I have kids who are going to miss a few days' worth of class. I'm stoked when they are proactive enough to ask for the homework days ahead of time, yet I also want to say, "Friday? Are you kidding me? I can't tell you what we're doing on Friday because I don't even know what we're doing on Friday. Why are you so studious, kid?!"

All this to say that sometimes I leave encouraged, and sometimes I leave frustrated. Another teacher mentioned today that it takes about three years to get into the swing of teaching, to feel mostly comfortable and confident. She's an amazing teacher, so it's nice to know that everyone bursts into tears at some point or another. We cry because we care. Right? Maybe I'll get that printed on a nameplate for my desk! Teachers: We cry because we care.

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